The current building boom going on in Berlin has garnered controversy inside and outside the city, as an international roster of architects put up signature structures all over town. From Norman Foster's reinvigorated Reichstag to Daniel Libeskind's stunningly brutal Jewish Museum, Berlin has not seen as wholesale a renaissance in its built environment since the decades leading up to World War II.
Now comes Frank Gehry's entry: the $200 million DG Bank building, which is next to the Brandenberg Gate. Because of a set of city-imposed constraints governing development around the portal that once separated East Berlin from West, Gehry had to work within a stricter format than he is used to. "People are surprised that I can do so detailed a rectilinear structure," he says of the building's off-white limestone wrapper. Within that highly rational exterior, however, is an enormous atrium filled with one of Gehry's most exuberant forms to date: an undulating metal horse's head that contains a two-tiered conference center.
The new main Berlin branch of Frankfurt-based DG Bank is as symbolic to the institution that commissioned it as the Brandenberg Gate is to Berliners, explains Detlef Marquardt, DG Bank's executive vice president. "Berlin is becoming one of Europe's most significant centers of culture, business, and innovation, and this building is indicative of the bank's willingness to embrace these new realities."
"What's different about the building is that it looks so improbable," adds Gehry. "You would never know from the outside that there's this huge sculptural form inside." The atrium's interior is clad with warm-toned wood and crowned with a canopy of glass tiles set into a stainless-steel grid — a triumvirate of materials that are as sculptural as they are structural. "People know that they need good art and good music, but they don't necessarily know that they need good buildings," Gehry says. "It takes an enlightened client to build something like this. And those are pretty rare."
A version of this article appeared in the September 2001 issue of Fast Company magazine.